By Noah Mostow
Additive manufacturing (AM) is not a one-step process. The manufacturing workflow for metal PBF parts can include 10-15 distinct steps and operations. Each one requires tracking and documenting to maintain a record of activity and efficient workflow. As production scales, something would inevitably get lost without a well-developed and proven system.
Companies in the AM industry are developing and adopting manufacturing execution system (MES) solutions for workflow management. MES platforms help plan and monitor every step in the process. These tools will help 3D printing develop into a reliable manufacturing process and expand into the mainstream. Like order tracking at Domino’s Pizza, companies can monitor the entire workflow of AM parts using MES.
Many small companies have little tracking beyond Excel. In a recent conversation with the CEO of a solutions provider, the executive said the cost for companies to adopt MES is not significant.
Over the past few months, the industry has seen excitement around MES solutions. Materialize acquired the option to buy Link3D, a cloud-based MES company, in July 2021. 3D Systems acquired Oqton in September 2021 for $180 million. At last month’s RAPID + TCT 2021, Markforged released its Eiger Fleet software, a platform for scaling AM operations. Wohlers Associates believes that most users will somehow be impacted by these and other MES offerings in the future, resulting in significant improvements in the AM workflow.